What is the brand, who does the branding, and other necessary questions.


I attended the branding meeting last week at the YMCA, and there’ll be more to say on this proposal, although for now, let’s concede that while branding downtown is a good and desirable idea, the way this most recent best branding plan has come to fruition raises numerous red flags, as so often been the case in such matters.

What’s the brand? Is it referencing price point, lifestyle, multi-cultural? What’s the definition of downtown? Who gets to play? Why this marketing firm and not that other one? Is it for independent businesses, chains or both? Are ads on bus stops in Louisville really reaching the chosen target audience? What is the chosen target audience? Why not Columbus or Indianapolis? Why not all the people in Floyd County who still don’t know downtown exists?

And: Why not ask the intended beneficiaries first, rather than permit the proposal to trickle down to them?

It’s the same argument I recently conveyed to planners at One Southern Indiana, which after remaining uninvolved for so long when it comes to local independent small business, has elected to randomly choose one marketing program out of many to tout (3/50), then feed it to the intended recipients from the top down: Here’s your medicine, and leave bridge tolls out of it. All well intended and good, but not a strategy calculated to involved businesses.

The simple fact is that for the entire time I served on Develop New Albany’s volunteer board (2006-2010), our officially chartered Main Street organization consistently took a hands-off approach to economic development in the context downtown businesses, preferring to interface via an intermediary in the form of a loosely organized merchants circle.

Now it is 2011, the going’s marginally better, and more than a few small businesses on the ground have done some (probably much) of the heavy lifting in terms of financial necks on chopping blocks, which is as it should be.

Now, in 2011, in swoops a specific marketing firm (nothing against Dudgeon, but couldn’t this have been a “bidding” arrangement?) with a specific marketing proposal.

Now in an election year the funding magically appears, almost certainly emanating primarily from the city and the UEZ, and voila! At long last, downtown marketing … but, alas, from the top down, not from the bottom up.

(For Paul and the other Young Turks at DNA, heaven knows I understand you’re working very hard to accomplish something, and please don’t take any of this as a rebuff to your efforts. You are the future. I’m not expressing knee-jerk opposition here, just asking questions that need to be asked so that the general reading public can consider them. These things always seem to occur to a predetermined cadence, and we need to ask why.)

Conspicuously absent from these proceedings is New Albany First, perhaps the only example in recent memory of an organization embracing all applicable businesses within the city limits, one choosing to gradually evolve from something approximating genuine grassroots consensus, with the stated object of creating an independent business association and implementing “buy local” marketing efforts.

Yes, there is an admirable degree of togetherness to be praised whenever DNA, UEZ and the city combine forces. At the same time, wouldn’t it be better to have had — to still have — everyone at a table so that we can sort through these many organizations and proposals, and come up with a policy that reflects a higher standard of unity?

To be fair, this applies to 1Si, too. Although I opposed it, the council gave a monetary stipend to 1Si, and 1Si is indicating that it wants to give some of it back by backing the 3/50 scheme. The point it, there are five or six organizations interested in aspects of the same objective. Can’t they all come together, divide the labor, and let the actual businesses being branded receive collective “credit” rather than the identity of the umbrella itself?

Sorry. I just had to ask.

Advertising blitz would tout downtown New Albany businesses; Develop New Albany, UEZ and city partnering on promotion, by Daniel Suddeath (One Southern Indiana Newspaper)

Two New Albany organizations are collaborating with the city to fund an advertising campaign focused on branding the downtown entertainment district.

Develop New Albany announced Wednesday it will partner with the city and the New Albany Urban Enterprise Zone to cross promote local restaurants and retailers possibly as early as March.

The entities have pledged a total of $30,000 toward the $40,000 project, which will be administered through the New Albany marketing firm Dudgeon & Company.